Speculative ASMR

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Image from YouTube channel AsmrArtistsRead

Speculative settings are known to enchant and exhilarate. Whether you’re flying through space and time, or surrounded by magicians and dragons, speculative works create an overpowering sense of adrenaline and excitement. What proves fascinating is the way in which these worlds and characters are also capable of lulling the audience into a peaceful, sometimes trance-like state; and all with the help of a little science.

Many people mention feeling a tingling, goosebump-like sensation when they’re asked to describe a state of relaxation or calm. Frequently this feeling arises from seemingly insignificant things: whispering barely above a murmur, the sound of water droplets, or thunder. Over the past decade or so, science has come to classify this sensation as autonomous sensory meridian response, or ASMR. A person can enter a euphoric state upon hearing sounds or seeing things that stimulate a tingling sensation, which starts at the scalp and moves down throughout the body.

For insomniacs or anxious people like myself, there is a large and growing ASMR community on YouTube. Users called ASMRtists make videos where they do anything from playing with crinkly tissue paper and tapping on various surfaces to roleplays and personal attention/positive affirmation videos that engage the viewer. While most videos are rather mundane, using everyday objects or referring to regular scenarios such as a trip to the spa, some users have decided to get creative and refer to the speculative realm for help.

One of the first ASMR videos I’ve ever watched was a simple whispering video by a user called Whisper Crystal, in which she layered the reading of Tolkien’s elvish poetry, in Elvish and in English, with music from the movie. Though the video has since, sadly, had its settings changed to private, I still remember the way in which the breathy pronunciation and laments for the evening star made me feel safe and lulled me to sleep, once again sobbing at the unfortunate twist of fate of not having been born an elf.

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Image from YouTube channel Heather Feather ASMR

These videos have only gotten more popular over the years. There are those like Heather Feather’s “It’s Dangerous to Go Alone!” roleplay, in which the viewer feels like a character in the beginning of a video game. The viewer is presented with a variety of weapons from well-known games like the dagger of time from The Prince of Persia. These videos play with pop culture and incorporate existing details or languages, like one read in Valyrian, a language from Game of Thrones.

One channel in particular has become a personal favourite of mine, a channel by the user ASMR Rooms. Each of her YouTube videos is called a “room” because of the way in which it incorporates sounds that one would hear at a specific location. One can listen to the low humming and tinkering of the dwarves of Erebor, or the sounds of the waterfalls of Rivendell with the gentle singing of the elves. Many of her videos focus on the world of Harry Potter, capturing locations such as the Three Broomsticks. The best by far are the four videos dedicated to each of the four houses, among which Hufflepuff is the best. Situated near the Hogwarts kitchens, the Hufflepuff common room is sunny and breezy, with the sound of birds chirping and a pleasant spring breeze blowing through the windows, while the occasional chatter of students or the shadow of a stranger pass by.

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Image from YouTube channel ASMR rooms

Though the sounds used in these videos are simple, and similar to what one might hear on a regular basis, they are successful in stimulating the imagination by creating a sense of setting and atmosphere. It becomes easy to choose your appropriate House video and imagine oneself as a student in Hogwarts, sitting and studying for your O.W.L.s or simply taking a nap between classes. While other videos can include speculative characters or props, they focus much more on calming the viewer down—though some, like the few roleplays of Nurse Joy, are worthwhile to watch/listen to because of their cuteness.

One of the greatest pains for an avid reader is being unable to slip into the pages of the book and exist in whatever world one is reading about. While movies are capable of bringing these stories and characters to life, they do so in a way that makes one want to run headfirst into battle or do something reckless, like ride a dragon. ASMR videos offer a different side to these beloved characters and places, letting them become something each person visualizes and understands differently in a vivid, sensory fashion. It becomes much easier to make the experience personal and enjoyable, a “mundane day” in a fantastical world.

-Contributed by Margaryta Golovchenko

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Kiss of the Rose Princess

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Image from aminoapps.com

Guilty pleasures come in all categories—food, books, and TV shows, to name a few. But none of these are as quirky as manga, which can be sweet, ridiculous, and moving all at the same time. The most unusual of these is probably the “harem” genre. Similar to otome games, the genre commonly follows a protagonist surrounded by a group of attractive characters who each fit a specific archetype. The plot of the story is usually secondary to the romance, with the main question being: who will they choose?

Though the genre is quite popular in Japan, it can seem unusual to North American readers, even coming across as creepy to some. But that didn’t stop the official English translation and publication of one of my favourite manga—Shouto Aya’s Kiss of the Rose Princess.

Yes, the title already leaves quite the impression, and the covers might make it a challenge to read in public. Underneath the glittery exterior, however, lies a story that isn’t as simple as it seems.

The series follows high school student Anise Yamamoto, who is hounded for breaking the school’s uniform policy through the minute yet rebellious act of wearing a rose choker. The rest of the students seem to think she does this in order to break rules, but the reality lies in the fact that Anise cannot take the choker off. She has worn it from a young age, when her father tied it around her neck with the ominous instruction to never take it off, or else a terrible punishment would befall her. When the choker ends up being ripped off by the strange bat/cat-like creature Ninufa, Anise finds the “punishment” to be a little different than she had feared.

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Image from aminoapps.com

Anise learns that she is, in fact, a Rose Princess. She possesses four magical cards which, when kissed, each summon a different Rose Knight: the Red Rose, Kaeda, a classmate of hers whom Anise had dismissed and teased; the White Rose, Mitsuru, a third-year and popular student council president with a pervy side; the Black Rose, Mutsuki, an ancient creature known as a Dark Stalker; and the Blue Rose, Seiran, an artificial rose who is nonetheless trying hard to prove his worth as a knight.

Together, they learn that the seal on the Demon Lord has been weakened, and the five must embark upon a series of adventures in order keep the seal from breaking. In the process, Anise must make a “true bond” with a knight, ultimately resulting in a romantic relationship.

All of the above are merely the bones to the actual story. It is only upon going further into the series that the smaller nuances begin to show up. These details bring Kiss of the Rose Princess from a simple romance-heavy series to one that touches upon topics of acceptance and authenticity. The Fake Rose Princess, Ella, has four Fake Rose Knights: Purple, Gray, Gold, and Silver. Along with the Orange and Lime roses, Idel and Yako, these characters embody the strong desire for the fulfillment of a personal wish; a desire so strong that people often go to great lengths—and sacrifice much—in order to achieve it. Anise’s father Schwarz exemplifies the endless internal debate between scientific curiosity and morality.

The series has so much to cover that its only real shortcoming is the fact that it was only nine volumes long, leaving quite a few threads dangling and making the story feel rushed. The plot-line about collecting the Arcana cards and restoring the demon seal is abandoned without a fully satisfactory replacement or explanation. Some of the characters also felt like they could’ve had some more development and a couple more scenes added to focus on them, in particular the relationship between the Orange and Lime roses. I felt that there was more to it than simply a friendship and a complex past of growing up together in a foster home, and it would have been nice to see that explored.

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Image from polyvore.com

The knight Anise “ends up with” isn’t entirely a surprise, the same way that it is frequently apparent which character the protagonist is leaning more towards in love triangles/squares in TV shows and books, and the incomplete feeling of the final volume does make it the weakest in the series. But the art is absolutely gorgeous. This is one of the reasons why I (somehow) came across this manga years ago and read it when it had only been scanned and translated by online volunteer groups, with no sign that it would one day be officially licensed in English.

The series has its fair share of adorable, hilarious, awkward, and sweet moments, all well-dispersed through each book. It shouldn’t be discredited or overlooked simply due to its sugary title or covers. It’s easy to root for Anise, and her strength and obliviousness give her character an authenticity that makes her the most balanced representation of an adolescent girl I have seen so far.

-Contributed by Margaryta Golovchenko

An Ongoing Lack of Spontaneous Combustion

wordsonpagespress2Poetry has comfortably slipped into its current position as the most honest medium of writing. It allows the poet to play with images, scenarios, and characters that may not necessarily be personal, but, at the same time, inject their words with a truth serum of sorts. There is a certain naked honesty to the medium regardless of how fancy a dress it chooses to don, with however many layers of taffeta and crinoline.

In her 2012 collection Love, an Index, poet Rebecca Lindenberg wrote: “Poetry/ how thought feels”, while James Dickey defines a poet as “someone who stands outside in the rain hoping to be struck by lightning.” Some subgenres of poetry can be considered more “naked” than others: one would understand, for example, why Emily Dickinson or William Blake are not necessarily the go-to for young audiences (unless they are trying to woo someone with romantic poetry). There is, however, one genre that I’d argue captures this wild spirit best: the surrealist genre.

When presented with the term, most people will proceed to recount the fantastical paintings of Salvador Dalí or René Magritte. Few will think of literature. Even fewer will be able to identify French writer André Breton as the “father” of the movement.

Perhaps it is no great surprise that the genre is not popular with the masses, though that is not to say that there are few writers who choose to work in the genre. This is why, if one is searching for contemporary surrealist poetry, it is best to turn to the smaller indie presses and poetry chapbooks. Pearl Pirie’s An Ongoing Lack of Spontaneous Combustion is a fine example. Released in April 2016 from words(on)pages press, a Toronto-based publisher, this poetry chapbook not only demonstrates that the genre is alive and kicking, but that it is conscious of and adapting to current events.

The poems of An Ongoing Lack of Spontaneous Combustion never stray too far from the reality of everyday life. Rather, they are gently planted amid a sea of turbulent self-reflection. Take the poem “Under the Tongues of Thunder”, which instantly won me over with its wise flying hippos, stating: “you can only fly/ for as long, as well, as I can, if you train for years/ by carrying hearses of friends.” That is not to say that one needs a red flying hippo in order to understand the beautifully dark reality of these words (although if you’re like me, the fantastical imagery does stimulate an otherwise drowsy mind). The balance and subtlety of the real and slightly ridiculous is so fine in these poems that moving in and out of them not only becomes natural, but one also begins to realize that our routine lives are not much different.

The true tour de force, however, is the poem “The Procedures for Filing Claims for Refugee Status.” If the exploration of the self is a topic that has existed—and will likely continue to exist—until the end of mankind, then the issue of the Syrian refugee crisis is more immediate. The poem approaches the subject with the same level of ridiculousness as the accusations government officials have been making; which is why the lines: “you can’t be too careful about who/ may carry disease or dis-ease” read so pointedly. Yet there is something about the images of tiny insect visas and the frisking of butterflies that makes it impossible to focus solely on the magical nature of the images. If anything, surrealism is the very thing that brings one’s focus to reality.

It’s a rather sad fact that one must often resort to shock value in order to get mass attention on an important issue. Luckily for literature, the genre of surrealism is still alive and kicking. An Ongoing Lack of Spontaneous Combustion covers the realms of self-exploration and social justice, finally leaving the reader with “Poet’s Guide to Buildings on Fire”, which is impossible to do justice via explanation—one simply has to read it for oneself to appreciate the wit and honesty. It is like a modern-day companion to Rainer Maria Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet.

Surrealism is more than melted clocks and heads instead of flowers, despite what much of modern day culture tries to convince us. True surrealism is conscious not only of the subconscious realm, but more importantly, it strives to address the ailments that plague it, presenting them in an unfiltered and moving manner—and Pearl Pirie’s chapbook does exactly that.

-Contributed by Margaryta Golovchenko

Enter the Raccoon

I would never have known about the existence of Enter the Raccoon if it wasn’t for Beatriz Hausner herself, who came in as a plenary speaker for the Vic One program. Surrealism is clearly not the most popular genre, and the science-oriented students could be seen smirking quietly. But it was undeniable that, once she began to read, a trance-like quality in Hausner’s voice took hold of the entire auditorium. In that moment, I wasn’t quite sure whether it was the way in which she read or the words themselves. I only knew that I wanted to read more of her work and see if I could experience such a feeling on my own.

The results were indeed replicable, although I did learn one significant thing: Enter the Raccoon isn’t the type of book you’d want to read on a subway ride, for the wandering eyes of nearby passengers might occasionally be shocked by what they come across. The collection traces the love affair of the narrator and a human-like raccoon, with a particular emphasis on the sexual side of the relationship.

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The prose poems interchange: a piece that furthers the reader’s understanding of the love affair may be immediately followed by a poem that has a very journal-like quality to it, discussing things such as artwork in a museum, a popular Chilean TV show, or the way in which raccoons act as carriers for diseases. It’s strange to describe and feels equally strange while reading, yet there is an allure to the poems that makes it impossible to put the book down.

Despite the raccoon’s description as not only human-like in stature but also possessing several mechanical limbs, the relationship he shares with the narrator is not far from the kinds one might encounter on a daily basis. It is possible that one might have experienced something similar in the past.

The wordplay and riddles that the two lovers exchange are perhaps tamer than the act of leaving and staying that categorizes modern relationships. There is always a sense of sitting on the very edge, wondering whether the relationship will continue or end, and on what note the latter would happen. Most significantly, there is an element of nostalgia present even when Raccoon and the speaker are together, as if there is a much greater emotional and psychological rift between them.

While this half of the collection may be less accessible to some readers, the other half makes up for it quite easily. Hausner mentions Amy Winehouse several times, and the event of her death is recent enough for the impact to still be palpable. These moments also act as an invitation for the reader to take a glimpse at the poet’s internal thought process.

The technique of automatic writing in these rather personal and at times rather informative pieces is what brings out the other side of surrealism; the much less outlandish one that counteracts the sheer bizarreness of reading about the relationship of a human woman and a human-like raccoon. These other poems still manage to transport the reader into a deeper exploration of the self-conscious by remaining rooted in present day scenarios and factual events.

Either way, Enter the Raccoon never stops exerting its weird charm. It also isn’t the type of collection that one can easily pick up and dive into. Rather, it requires a proper mood or mindset (or a ridiculous sugar high, take your pick). It successfully demonstrates that the fantastically bizarre isn’t as bizarre as one may think, successfully pairing it with real-life examples that create a transient state that is no less odd but enticing.

-Contributed by Margaryta Golovchenko

The Ship Isn’t Big Enough for the Two of Us: A Review of Passengers

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This review contains spoilers!

In the realm of inferior movies there is a special category reserved for movies that are unsatisfactory despite their captivating and deceptively convincing trailers. Passengers is a new addition to this category, for despite its adrenaline-filled trailers that bombarded TV screens several weeks before its release, it leaves its audience with a bitter aftertaste that makes one think, “I could’ve written a much better space-romance than that.”

As the space-romance begins, the viewer finds themselves instantly thrown into a tumultuous story aboard the starship “Avalon,” which is flying through space on autopilot, navigating cosmic debris and asteroids. It is one of these asteroids that breaks through the defensive shield causing the ship to “rock”—already a rather unconvincing plot detail considering that the ship seems to have flown seamlessly for 30 years—and wakes Jim Preston from his hibernation pod.

Considering this is yet another space movie featuring Chris Pratt, one might expect him to be somewhat akin to Star Lord from Guardians of the Galaxy: clever, quirky, quick on his feet. However, when creating Preston’s character, it is as though the producers forgot all these things, resulting in him being, conveniently, an engineer that lacks a personality. His role does not go far beyond attempting to break open the door to the command center and to ultimately assume roles as a welder, botanist, jeweller, and stereotypical I-will-save-the-world hero. The only backstory he receives is that he could barely afford the ticket, but decided to leave Earth in an attempt to start a new life.

After Preston struggles over the course of a year with being alone on the ship and even contemplating suicide, the movie comes to what is the biggest and most problematic aspect of the movie: Jennifer Lawrence’s character, Aurora Lane. It isn’t so much the fact that Aurora is, like Preston, a monochrome character, or the fact that she’s yet another example of a writer who writes to achieve fame (and also happens to be from New York, and have a rich and well-known writer for a father). The problem is more in the way in which she appears in the plot.

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This is where the biggest source of anger and disappointment lies. The trailers present Passengers as a romantic story of two people who happened to wake up together and find themselves trying to save the spaceship, and in doing so, fall in love. In reality however, it is Preston who “wakes up” Aurora Lane by meddling with her hibernation pod.

Preston’s explanation for this is the inability to cope with his loneliness—his only other constant companion being the robot bartender Arthur—and despite how horrible his actions are, one can understand the motivation behind them. However, the way in which he specifically “chooses” Aurora—by accidentally coming across her pod, finding her attractive, looking up an interview with her and declaring that she is the woman of his dreams—raises eyebrows and exasperates.

This development overshadows the rest of the movie, and drastically changes the atmosphere. The viewer is put in the position of judging Preston’s decision. We’re left wondering when he’ll tell her, and then choosing sides when the truth comes out, and ultimately imposing a “final verdict” depending on which character’s side they choose.

However, even the morality issues of the movie are overshadowed by the scientific inaccuracies, despite the absolute frequency of the moral dilemmas. It is a movie that exasperates not only those of science and engineering backgrounds but even general viewers having some knowledge in the field. Examples, such as flying past a burning planet, catch the eye of an audience who know that in real life the ship would be pulled towards the planet by its force of gravity.

Other glaring errors in logic are difficult to forgive even in a sci-fi fantasy movie: scenes such as Aurora floating in a water bubble and not drowning, or Preston surviving a massive flame without even minor damage to his space suit. It goes without saying that some semblance of scientific law and common sense is appreciated. For this reason, scenes like the ending lose their sentimental touch, instead provoking a stream of questions like “wait, what is that tree growing on? And how are all these animals surviving?”

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The one positive of this movie, which can also be interpreted as a negative by some, is how easily it opens up the debate on morals and what constitutes romance (although the faulty science still looms in the background as another big topic of discussion). While Preston is easily criticisable for his decision to awaken Aurora, one can counter by saying that she got the adventure she was hoping for, a bigger one than spending a 240 days in hibernation flying to a space colony. The way the viewer interprets the movie is a demonstration of their thought processes.

The movie is viewed differently by different age groups. Teenagers and young adults might see it as a destruction of dreams and the snatching away of possibilities, similar to the way in which Aurora often accused Preston of doing so. Some adults, however, will argue that it is a movie that counters the ‘dream big’, ‘dream without limits’ ideology by showing that not all people can have their dreams fulfilled; a fact that is very much a part of reality and that which is still reluctantly acknowledged by the entertainment industry.

What I got out of this movie is that capitalism is scary, business comes first and foremost, and that if I were in the movie I wouldn’t get onto the Avalon even if they paid me. (Also that writers aren’t always weak and can actually swing sledgehammers or beat-up the jerks that ruin their lives.) Other than that, Passengers was a source of disappointment and emotional discomfort, with a bland storyline, shallow characters, a “romance” that is neither believable nor right, and an ending that makes one reach for a pen and paper and yell “I can do better!”

-Contributed by Margaryta Golovchenko

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them: A Charming New Chapter of the Wizarding World

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Some people may understand I say that the first time I saw the commercial for Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, it felt very much like deciding whether to go and order another cup of coffee. On the one hand, you know you’ve already had several and so drinking another will probably ruin the pleasant effect, but on the other hand the thought is so appealing, and it looks so damn good that you can’t help but wonder if this one might be even better than all the rest.

At first, the movie seemed like just another cash-grab. And when J.K. Rowling announced that she plans to turn it into a series, with five films rather than the initially planned three, I have to admit it felt like another example of an author milking their success.

But seeing the movie turned out to be much different, and the feeling of relaxation, enjoyment, and overall lightness after exiting the theatre made the verdict quite clear: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is very good. The adulthood missing from Harry Potter is present in Fantastic Beasts.

Fantastic Beasts transports the viewer to New York in 1926, and it is the wizard and magizoolistic Newt Scamander who serves as our protagonist. He is just as British as Harry, and as tussled and quirky, but that is where their similarities end. Unlike Harry, who we first met at 10-years-old, Newt begins the series as an adult and has the knowledge to prove it. He never sets out to flagrantly display his intellect, but instead spends the movie content with inwardly curating it out of the joy that it brings him.

The main conflict of the film is a little formulaic, part Pandora’s box and part comical-accident-turned-catastrophic. The magical suitcase Newt brings into NYC ends up switched with a suitcase full of pastries carried by the No-Maj (the American term for Muggles) Jacob Kowalski, who accidentally releases several of the magical creatures within it. One of these animals is the adorable Niffler, which has the appearance of an echidna and the personality of a magpie, amassing all the gold and jewels it finds into its bottomless pouch.

And thus begins a hunt for the missing creatures throughout the city, with the help of Porpentina ‘Tina’ Goldstein, her Legilimens (telepathic) sister “Queenie,” and Jacob.

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Right from the start one finds the distinction Rowling draws between the North American and European wizardly worlds. From the use of terminology for regular humans (muggles vs. no-maj), to the American wizards governed by the Magical Congress of the United States of America, which is headed by a president. There is even a squabble at one point between Newt and Queenie over which wizarding school is the best in the world. Of course, Newt represents Hogwarts while Queenie argues for the recently introduced and still unfamiliar Ilvermorny.

Some aspects of the world-building cross the geographical borders, such as the Deathly Hallows sigil and the name dropping of Albus Dumbledore. Others transcend time and begin to create a sense of interconnectedness with the future, occurring in the form of a photograph Newt carries with him of Leta Lestrange, as he later admits, a past love from his Hogwarts years that ended poorly.

These differences and connections within the plot cannot compare to the most important difference of all: that of the quality of the story. Rowling presents a much more measured and sophisticated approach to magic, making it feel magical and all-encompassing in a way that doesn’t bombard one with a dazzling show of gimmicks and terminology as the Harry Potter series did. Instead time is taken to show the inside of Newt’s suitcase, to explore the nooks and crannies of it and develop a personal attachment to the creatures living inside it, giving a detailed example of the Undetectable Extension charm which was previously only vaguely shown in Hermione’s bag.

There is also a greater sense of order—or lack thereof—and consequence in the movie. The character of Mary Lou Barebone, head of the New Salem Philanthropic Society, an order that that fights to draw New York’s attention to the existence of witches, adds a touch of urgency to the story. She was a reminder that the threat of exposure and negative influence of no-majs on the wizards was just as significant as the threat wizards posed to each other.

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I can find few qualms in the movie, and even those are more technical than they are glaring plot errors. The obsession with darkness and dark scenes grew to be a bit much at certain points, making some scenes difficult to make out visually. The casting of Johnny Depp was another reason for confusion. His appearance in the film and just in general were unpleasant, by the bleached hair, eyebrows, and moustache, while his last words “Will we die just a little?” were delivered in a muffled manner that was also contextually disappointing.

These had little impact on the movie, which was a well-crafted story of adult wizards and witches from beginning to end. It did have the quality of a prologue to it, and some may find it to lack action while stressing the informative tone, but that is to be expected of a movie that is not only part of a series but is also introducing a new side of the wizarding world.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them balances the familiar with the new, the former used more as a strategy to make the viewer more comfortable with the latter. It isn’t a crutch but rather a reminder that there is always room to create new worlds, characters, and plots, which is exactly what Rowling was able to achieve. The fact that she wrote the screenplay gave the movie a quality of confidence and authenticity, strengthening the sense of magic and wonder it already possessed.

-Contributed by Margaryta Golovchenko

A Step in the Right Direction: A Review of Disney’s “Moana”

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We are slowly entering the age of the reinvention of Disney.

Disney has boasted about including diversity in their films for a few years now, but still, Moana came as something unexpected to me. I suppose I didn’t actually expect anything from the big talk of how Disney was trying to push boundaries, and finally strive for more accurate cultural representation of non-white/Western European cultures.The trailers for Moana were ambiguous at best, and the scandal with the Maui Halloween costume at the Disney store was not reassuring.

But having promised my brother we’d go see it in theatres, I nonetheless told myself to remain optimistic. Moana could be different—it could be excellent.

Now I cannot speak to how other audiences received Moana, or how truly accurate or representational it was of Polynesian culture, but the first thing that struck me about the movie was how much it displayed a genuine effort to research and present its findings.

Some Disney movies, like Beauty and the Beast and Tangled, take a fairytale approach in which the story begins with a narrator, either ominous or involved. Moana does this as well, but chooses instead to present an origin story rooted in mythology, telling the story of the island goddess Te Fiti and how her heart was stolen by the mischievous Maui. The viewers soon sees that it is a grandmother telling the story to a group of children, of which only tiny Moana is enthralled by the terrifying details.

There is something very down to earth and homely about this beginning sequence. The movie presents, for the first time, a glimpse of childhood story time that is familiar to many of the audience members, capturing the uniqueness of the heroine without driving it home with a giant flashing neon sign.

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Concept art for Moana by Ryan Lang between Moana and Te Fiti

Moana is, in many ways, a movie of firsts. Moana’s adventurous spirit isn’t presented as an anomaly but rather as a return to ancestry and a past way of life which has been forgotten. The movie aims for a message of remembering one’s roots rather than going down the stereotypical path of having a heroine that’s different just because that is what is expected.

It’s a movie where, for the first time, the animal companion is arguably there not only for comic relief. Instead, we appreciate that other, subtler, line of thought presented through Heihei the chicken, that patience and love towards someone who’s different is a powerful thing. The story is also very much a “hero’s journey” archetype that leaves no room for a romantic side plot, another first in the long line of Disney’s princess ancestry, with only Mulan and Merida coming close.

One of the things I appreciated though was how “meta” Disney decided to be, in two moments both facilitated by Maui. The first occurs on a canoe, when Maui calls Moana a princess after she says that she’s the daughter of the chief. Moana corrects him, and  he replies: “it’s practically the same thing…if you wear a dress and have an animal sidekick, you’re a princess.” It’s a cheeky and fun jab at the Disney line, especially since we all know Moana is ineviatebly going to be part of their “Disney Princess” line.

The second meta moment is about halfway through the movie, when Moana and Maui fine the entrance to the realm of monsters. An exasperated Maui asks Moana to not break into song and dance (even though he did this earlier himself). An added bonus is the scene where Maui signs Moana’s oar with Heihei’s beak, declaring that “when you do it with a bird, it’s called tweeting.” Perhaps Disney has become bolder in poking fun at itself and modernity. It is another sign of progress, one that added optimism.

As far as musical Disney goes, one will certainly find memorable songs, but thankfully nothing as out-of-context and catchy as “Let It Go”. The soundtrack is worth its own separate exploration, particularly with the original and cover versions of “How Far I’ll Go” and, even more memorable for me, the Rock’s tap-worthy “You’re Welcome”.

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Still from the movie, depicting baby Moana

Sitting here now and thinking over the whole movie again, it’s easy to come up with all the movie’s strengths—it had many of them. Even small aspects of the story that existed for driving the plot were adorable and memorable, such as the Kakamoras and their elaborate pirate ship.

Right after finishing the movie though, I didn’t quite know what I felt or thought about it, apart from the general agreement that I liked it. I didn’t cry the way many people swore I would, perhaps because I’m not emotional at the same things. Yet this hesitation and uncertainty shouldn’t be taken as a negative sign, in fact, quite the opposite. It is an indication that for once, we have been presented with a princess-like character that doesn’t fall into one of the polarized regions of the spectrum as either a “I like her and relate to her” or “no, she doesn’t speak to me/I disliked her for ‘x’ reason”.

Moana lines up a carefully conceived and perfectly paced storyline, characters that are so well-balanced that one almost hopes they’re perfect even in their shortcomings, and a visual culture that is rich and vibrant without being exoticized. Moana is a step in the right direction, a movie that is hopefully an indicator of the way Disney plans to head.

-Contributed by Margaryta Golovchenko